Timing is an essential framework for great movies. Some have come to battle on behalf of Eli Roth’s remake of the 1974 thriller by stating that the timing of a film is not a fair criticism. But Roth’s “Death Wish” makes that claim hard to believe since the story revolves around that of a distraughtly widowed father beginning to take the laws into his own hands. It plays like a good old-fashioned NRA commercial that suggests that the solution to this onslaught of violence is more violence but with a good man at the helm of the barrel. Even if you take the politics out of it, which feel inherently placed, you still find a film that is struggling to focus itself in any kind of direction.
Many critics have stated that the timing of this film is unpurposeful and unfairly warranted of criticism, but the structure of the film suggests differently since the film takes place in the so-called “murder-capital” of the world, Chicago. It also makes the time to showcase the easy access to firearms that many individuals inside that very city have as everyday citizens. It even goes to the length of intercutting podcasts to showcase the imaginative reality of a modern-day America being met with the divisive discussion of whether or not we should take justice into our own hands. The claim to say it’s unfair to criticize the film for its impromptu timing begins to wear thin when you start to contemplate these details of construction for a movie that is showcasing the oldest tale of how a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun.
This is the superhero-like origin story for those who believe in this eye for an eye philosophy. It’s the old western duel portrayed on a bigger and badder screen. We as the audience can feel the division between one another as you either feel awkward while watching this due to its cultural relevance, or you feel rushed with adrenaline as your watching a cathartic release of so-called justice take place on the silver screen. It feels purposefully suggestive of conversation, but many will claim that this is just the result of bad timing, however, the number of red herrings to be found may suggest quite the opposite.
The 1974 “Death Wish” was known to be promoting a message as well that not too many people entirely agreed with, but the overall depiction of that film had moments of pure charisma at least. The same cannot be said for Roth’s rendition in which the one thing keeping this film going is the bewildering performance from Bruce Willis. At times he’s quite intense and seems as if he’s re-depicting a familiar character, but in other moments he’s as wooden as a pirate ship.
He’s unreadable and unemotional in a way that doesn’t showcase his character’s remorse, but rather Mr. Willis’ boredom it seems. This performance keeps the film going in a way that is constantly contradicting itself from how he seems to become this vigilante superhero to how he seems to be the most disinterested father known to man. It’s a blend of a performance that is laughable and impactful at the same time. It’s like watching a boxing match between grandpas that can be incredibly humorous and entertaining to watch, but become quite boring when you realize that they’ve run out of energy.
The rest of the performances are a bit stale as well and actor associated. Dean Norris depicts the detective we’ve seen him become before and feels as if he’s doing just enough to get by without a cause for criticism, and Vincent D'Onofrio feels as if he’s been unplugged as the infamous method actor depicts a character without method. The filmmaking itself has moments of grotesque violence that act as the proverbial explosions to this shoot em’ up thriller, but the violence can feel incredibly over the top for shock and awe. It’s the same kind of methodology used by a dangerous performer in which it captivates us to see the violence, but instead of inciting us to reach this violent thirst for gore, “Death Wish” shows you all the goods with no build up and no hype.
This mispacing and lack of focused foresight from the filmmakers lead to action sequences with memorable sprinkles of brutality but unmemorable sequences of action. The characters themselves are rough around the edges and suffer from a lack of depth. They are the superficial displays of people that we should feel for just because of their shared tragedy or shared criminality. On the contrary, though, we can’t help but feel the disconnection between the screen and ourselves as these characters are hollowed outlines of people, nothing more and nothing less.
The direction is vapid of emotion, the performances are void of enthusiasm and creativity, and the story feels biasedly placed in a particular political opinion. To say the least, “Death Wish” has a lot wrong with it in my mind, but in another’s this may seem to be one of the most enjoyable films of the year thus far and I can resonate with that. Watching my father explode in enjoyment from the film’s enticing ides of swift justice being served in the most brutal of fashions was something eye-catching and thought-provoking. Part of the issue involving the subject of weaponry is a divide of reasoning in which we fail to attempt to understand one another.
I can reason with the idea of someone who's been let down by a system that should be trusted and feeling that the only solution to their problem is themselves. It’s sensical, logical, but dangerous. I understand the cathartic release that people like my father may feel, but I hope they can realize the frightful propaganda--like feeling that surges inside me when I am watching a film that only gives a glimpse of attention to the idea of others attempting to replicate this vigilantism and suffering the consequences. “Death Wish” is a film that may not seem to be purposely inciting this type of conversation, but to me, it's doing just that which is quite possibly one of the only few things it actually does well.